With Thanksgiving looking so different this year, we’re really trying to focus on gratitude and gratitude activities, so that we’re spending more time feeling, well, thankful, instead of resentful.
With my own Thanksgiving family plans cancelled — though though that is — I’m also trying to look on the bright side. Not spending so much time cooking and cleaning will leave me more time for some fun activities with my kids whether we’re playing board games, baking together as a family, or doing something a little more tied into the holiday season, like practicing gratitude.
So I’ve looked for some great Thanksgiving gratitude activities for kids that they will actually enjoy. Yes, I’ve included past favorites from Cool Mom Picks like this DIY thankful turkey craft, but not everything here is pumpkin or turkey themed at all.
So set some time aside and see if your family can choose one or more of these gratitude activities. Giving thanks always makes you feel better.
Purchases from affiliate links may generate a small commission for us, which helps support our work at no additional expense to you.
Related: 3 tips for keeping a gratitude journal with kids: Put them to work now.
1. Write thank you notes
Liz and Kristen spoke with Nancy Davis Kho last year about writing thank you notes, and it’s inspired me to take a pause in my day to help my kids write a thank you letter to someone they appreciate.
Let grandparents, aunts or uncles know how much you appreciate them hosting Thanksgiving every year, and how much you miss them now. Write to your classroom teachers, and thank them for their extra work (and risk) this year. Write to a neighbor who did something helpful. Write to activists who dedicated so much energy and effort into this year’s election. Write to your postal carrier!
Whoever you’re thankful for, let them know.
I found these cute printable thank you cards from Fantastical Fun Shop on Etsy, which makes it so easy to do this activity right now if you want.
2. Hang a general thank you sign
Want to thank even more people all at once? I love the idea of hanging a homemade thank you sign, like the adorable option in the photo by Nicholas Bartos at the very top.
Of course you can make it specific as well, by thanking your postal carrier, neighbors, or anyone else in the neighborhood who deserves a hat-tip right now.
3. Make a gratitude tree with the kids
I love this stunning DIY gratitude tree by The House that Lars built, which I included a couple years back in a roundup of Thanksgiving crafts that can double as table centerpieces. While it gives quite the dramatic vibe, it’s actually quite simple to make. And your whole family can involved, with everyone writing a thankful thought on the construction paper leaves.
I also know families who paint a kid-sized tree on a big piece of butcher paper they tape to their wall, then allow the kids write the things they’re thankful for on all its leaves. Or order the printable versions from Caravan Shoppe shown above.
It’s a nice option for families who don’t have actual big branches lying around their backyard, or for those who just want a more space-saving solution.
4. Get artistic with gratitude coloring pages
Liz found some awesome free Thanksgiving printables for kids that all about gratitude and they’d be great to print out for younger kids. Though some are even intricate enough that my teenager might whip out her fancy markers and go to work.
Or, print out this lovely Thankful poster seen here from Tell Love and Party, and put it up on your wall now, adding to it all month long. It will be a great talking point over your Thanksgiving dinner.
You may even decide to leave it up year round to keep on working out that gratitude muscle.
Related: How to make a DIY Thankful Turkey with your kids in 4 (very) easy steps
5. Make a gratitude garland
Last year we shared this fun tip for how to make a gratitude garland for the winter season, and you could definitely tweak the idea for a more Fall-ish, Thanksgiving vibe. Above, you can see how my son and I strung up some of the colorful, fallen leaves in our front yard by creating a simple knot around each stem and then taping the string to our windows.
Next, we turned it into a gratitude activity for kids simply by using a sharpie marker to write something we were each grateful for on each leaf.
If you don’t have access to colorful leaves at the moment, you can always make them with paper, of course.
6. Make a Thankful Turkey
This trend was making its way around Pinterest several years ago, and we still think making a Thankful Turkey a really fun idea for young kids. Our tutorial was very simple: all you need is scissors, a glue stick, and some construction paper. Asking your kids to fill out the feathers with things they’re thankful for when they’re very young is adorable (yes, we’re thankful for Peppa Pig, too), but I have a feeling this could become a tradition you make your kids do until they’re teenagers. And they’ll love it, even if they roll their eyes a little.
7. Keep a gratitude journal…maybe for sharing on Thanksgiving?
Even though I’m not great at being consistent with this, one of my favorite gratitude activities for my kids is to jot it all down in a journal. Check out these 5 great gratitude journal printables you can use, like the Ray of Sunshine log at Scattered Printable — it would look beautiful with lots of fall colors filling out those rays.
Or you can just make a list in a blank spiral notebook.
My daughter and I kept a gratitude journal together, adding to it every night at bedtime. It was such a stress-reducer to focus on the things we’re grateful for each day…even when it’s been a really bad day. Make it part of your routine to fill it out each day, and don’t be surprise if you feel a weight lifted.
To make it even more Thanksgiving-y, see if the kids would each be willing to go around the table during Thanksgiving dinner and share a few favorite entries. You might be surprised at the little things that move them, that you never would have known.
8. Give back to someone in need as a family
If your family has a tradition of serving food at a homeless shelter or running a charity 5K on Thanksgiving, it may be extra frustrating if you have to stay home this year. But there are still plenty of ways to support people in need, which always develops a strong sense of gratitude in myself — and my kids, I believe.
-Call your local food bank and ask how you can make donations
-Start your own food collection with a drop-off bin at your front doors that neighbors can use.
-Contact the homeless shelter in your city to see what items they need, then shop online or collect donations as a family
-Send an email to your local school’s principal, and see if there is a food-insecure family you can send grocery gift cards to anonymously
-Go online together to sponsor a child; I found Evan Forry’s comparison of 11 top child sponsorship groups really helpful, or check Charity Navigator.
-Start early with Toys for Tots collections of toys, or donate a “virtual” toy with a donation — they need a lot more help this year.
For even more ideas:
-Georgette shared these great ideas for giving back as a family all year long
-You could support one of these organizations that give back to their communities
-Choose one of these 12 holiday acts of kindness, or these 19 random acts of kindness you can do with your kids.
Just note that these were written pre-COVID, so keep safety measures in mind as you give back.
Even more simply, you can simply run an errand or order groceries for an elderly or homebound neighbor — just ask how you can help. There are probably people in need right in your neighborhood who you may not have considered. And while giving isn’t about necessarily hearing the thank you in return, if it does happen, it’s a wonderful incentive for kids to keep wanting to give.